4th and Inches at the Goal Line

2006 NFL season is approaching fast and the pre-season has officially began last Sunday. 

One of the more exciting plays in football is "the 4th and inches" at the goal line. Offense can pick a variety of plays from using a brutal force to some sneaky tricks. Defense, on the other hand is set for the last "do or die" stand knowing that making a stop here will provide tremendous boost for the whole team.

Can you think of anything similar in Chess? 

How about a struggle surrounding promoting a Pawn? Defense is building roadblocks and the offense is working on clearing the path for the pawn to 'score a touchdown' (get it promoted into the Queen). 

Here are some interesting examples of the '4th and inches" on the chessboard. 

Assess position, find moves candidates and the best variation. Write it down. Give it your best shot before proceeding to the answers (below). The difficulty varies so don't get discouraged if you miss something.

#1 Black to Move! #2 Evaluate 1...Qxf1+

#3 White to Move! #4 White to Move!









<1> Created by Polerio

Black has a fairely simple strategy - give up the Rook for the a-pawn and rush his King to win White pawns. The problem though is that the White King reaches the h1 square or is able to box the Black King on the h-file. For example - 1...Rc7+? 2.Kb8 Rxa7 3.Kxa7 Ke6 4.Kb6 Kf5 5.Kc5 Kg4 6.Kd4 Kxg3 7.Ke3 Kxh4 8.Kf2 or 1...Rh8? 2.Pa8Q Rxa8 3.Kxa8 Ke6 4.Kb7 Kf5 5.Kc6 Kg4 6.Kd5 Kxg3 7.Ke4 Kxh4 8.Kf3

Thus Black must be a bit more creative and find the stunning... 1...Ra8!! This move reveals a different, tactical strategy based on zugzwang. 1...Ra8  2.Kxa8 Kc7 (2...Kc8 would be a major mistake since White h-pawn would Queen with check!) 3.Pg4 (White is forced to make this losing move) Pxg4 4.Ph5 Pg3 5.Ph6 Pg2 6.Ph7 Pg1Q 7.Ph8Q (and no check!) Qg2# 


<2> Ermenkov,E - Sax,G, (1970) Black sacrificed the Queen to give the d-pawn a push - 1...Qxf1+ 2.Kxf1 Pd2 

What should White do now? 

Well, there are two ideas and two good moves candidates. 

First, is a perpetual - after 3.Qf8+?! White can get out of trouble by having the newly promoted Queen harass the Black King. 

The second idea is even trickier, but by know maybe you could guess what it is-  3.Qxf3! Rc1+ 4.Qd1! Rxd1+ 5.Ke2 and White forces a won Pawn endgame after 5...Rxx 6.Pd8Q Pd1Q+ 7.Qxd1 Rxd1 8.Kd1.


<3> Created by Troitsky
One of the two Black Pawn supported by the Rook seems to be poised for promotion. The first thing that you must do is to identify the 'big picture' plans - White needs to stop the pawns and can give up either of his two pieces (but not both) for the pawns (R vs.. B is an easy Draw). Next, the moves candidates. There are two 1.Rf4 and 1.Rh1

The natural 1.Rf4 has a point - 1...Re1? (a 'brutal force') 2.Rf8 and White will succeed in eliminating the pawn - 2...Pf1Q 3.Rxf1 and 4.Bxe3 or 2...any 3.Bxe3 and 4.Rxe2. But after a sneaky 1...Kb1! planning 2...Ra2+ and 3...Pe2 and White has no defense. For example: 2.Bg7 Ra2+ 3.Kb3 Pe2 4.Rxf2 Pe1Q 5.Rxa2 Qe6+.

What about 1.Rh1? Well, now the brutal force seems to seal the deal 1...Re1! But wait, White just 'stuffs' the line with 2.Rf1!! After 2...Rxf1 (2...Kb2 3.Bxe3 Rxf1 4.Kb4 transposes) 3.Bxe3 Kb2 (Black can't lose the Pawn f2) 4. Kb4 Kc2 5.Kc4 Kd1 6.Kd3 Ke1 7.Bd2+ Kd1 8.Be3 Draw!

<#4> Created by Kalandadze
This position is a complete mess. Both sides are ready to promote pawns, but Black's threat is more significant as he would do this with check, winning the game. Is there a way out? Did you come up with any worthy moves candidates?

 Well, the obvious moves to consider are 1.Rxb1 and 1.Rc2+. After 1.Rxb1 Kxb1 2.Pb7 (not 2.Ph8Q? Ph1Q+ and 3....Qxh8) Ph1Q+ 3.Kg5, can Black Queen catch the two 'rabbits'? Yes, the Queen can do this either from h2 or from anywhere on the 8th rank. Without spending any more time you should conclude that White's chances for Draw are minimal at best. The situation seems much better after 1.Rc2+ Rb2 2.Rc1 as Black must play 2...Rb1 accepting repetition.

Well, now that we have a Draw in our pocket, let's look for more. Indeed, let's consider our thematic idea - 1.Rh1!! Rxh1 (what else?) 2.Ph8Q (yeah!) Rg1! Oopps. 3.Qa8+ Kb2 (Diagram) What to do now? 


4.Qh1!! (Deja vu!) Rxh1 5.Pb7 Rxx (anywhere or 5...Pg5+ 6.Kh5 Kc2 7.Pb8Q and the Q will get to g2 winning Ph2) 6.Pb8Q+ and 7.Qxh2 reaching won Q vs. R endgame.


In this article I showed you examples that have one rare idea in common - how to stop or slow down the pawn on the 7th (2d) rank by attracting pawn's own supporter onto the square of promotion





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